Time-lining software to manage projects

I generally don’t like mind mapping softwares. I rarely have a pre-made, hierarchical data that I will list down into the nodes of a mind-maping software. My data is usually messy; unstructured. It is my job to collect and structure them.  The rigid structure that mind-mapping softwares imposes puts me off. It is ironic that they call them “mind mapping” tools as I find them the least mind-friendly of my tools.  My brain just doesn’t work with this kind of rigid structure. My brain works with connections, and fussy boundaries. That is reality of the human mind as we know it. 

I am a linguist. I know this as a matter of fact because I know the boundary between the word ‘like’ and ‘love’, ‘meet’ and ‘gather’ even between ‘map’ and ‘structure’ etc is as fuzzy as it gets. Fuzzy connections, or associations is how human brain works–not by rigid hierarchical structures.  

I have considered  mind-mapping  software as irrelevant to my work flow. I just gave up with them very early on. 

There is one exception thought. I tried them for managing projects. Very few of these applications have the capability  to manage projects. The first of these tools I have tried was Xmind. Xmind has Gantt chart. I like the gantt and many of the other views like the Matrix. 

But, it didn’t stick with me that much because the application is a bit cumbersome. It is very hard to pull an application everyday if it puts a bit of burden on my processor. 

I used Tinderbox a bit for this kind task. I used Tinderbox longer than Xmind for managing projects. I specially used it a lot for Agile system. 

Tinderbox also swamped me with large number of notes: as every pieces of task should be dropped with an individual note file. A simple task managing file immediately grew to hundreds of notes because every task requires its own individual note. 

I recently tried MindView. It is a lot better than Xmind because it supports both gantt charts as well as timeline. I specially like the Timeline. It also has dedicated project management system: like managing resources; tasks: etc. I found that Mindview is much more potent system for managing project than any other mind mapping application out there. 

The fact that I like the timeline a lot led me to further investigations to the applications that have this feature. In the process, I discovered Aeon Timeline. It is very neat application. Very fast and efficient. 

Timeline and Gantt are unified into a single system. Best of all, zooming into the details and out to the general overview has never been easier. This guy is the first software I so far discovered that successfully showed me the big picture of my project while still seeping into the details. 

In all other softwares, the choice is either or. You have to get to the details—losing the big picture; or lose the details and see the big picture. Tinderbox itself has this weakness. You have to either go to the top of the map; or zoom into one corner of the map. There is no both ways. In Aeon Timeline, flying from details to granular structures is just a matter of scrolling on your mouse; or simple punching on the touchpad. It is very beautiful. I love this easy way of zooming in and out of the details. 

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Replace Tinderbox with Scapple

Tinderbox has been very proud of its mapping features. That feature is indeed the main selling point of the application. But, I just realize, one  doesn’t  need to go through the pain of learning an application as complex as Tinderbox to gain these benefits. A little sister of Scrivener, Scapple can do it the mapping of ideas with the smallest fraction of cost; with the easiest pace of learning. It is also better than mind mapping applications mainly because it is portable (that is, you can just drag your notes to Scrivener), and the rigid outlining forced in the mind mapping applications doesn’t exist in Scapple. It is just free, a clean piece of paper. Write, connect in a way you want your ideas to flow.

 

Go and try it. You don’t have to worry about learning a complex, arcane piece of software to graph your ideas.

 

Abandoning Tinderbox and wikis; sticking with plain text

On Note-taking, wikis and Tinderbox

General lessons:

  • Wikis are bad: they will be broken if u move something. So, never use them: history is the best teacher; hyperlinks are stupid for keeping information for a long time
  • Future proof plain text (markdown) files are the best.
  • Keep all the text notes in the same folder, inside Dropbox
  • plain files can be access them by different apps (as the need arises).
  • Use services such as Simplenote and Dropbox to access them via the cloud (syncing)

    these were the steps i used to sync my notes to various apps

  • Create the notes in nvALT
  • Store them in a folder in Dropbox
  • Index the folder in Devonthink
  • Sync nvALT to Simplenote
  • Sync Tinderbox to Simplenote
  • Sync Scrivener to Simplenote

    Work on any of the app, as the need arises. The changes will be reflected everywhere (windows pcs, ipad, iphone, all fetch from the same folder).

  • nvALT is the best for simple notes (drop what is in your head)
  • Tinderbox is best for creating connections of ideas
  • Scrivener is the best for drafting

After some more experiences and lessons, I realize that the syncing between Simplenote and Tinderbox is broken. Tinderbox adds some weird symbols to my text when I sync them to it via Simplenote. I have been waiting for Tinderbox six if it can solve the problem. It turns out that Tinderbox 6 is by no means better than the previous version in this regard. Its arcane nature, its little communication with other applications in Mac still remains a major issue.

Therefore, I am forced to abandon it for now< at least until the formatting problem is solved. (I requested Mark Bernstein, the developer of Tinderbox a number of times, to fix the issue. Even if he promised so many times, I haven’t seen him doing it for over a year now. so, I am losing hope with him too)

Abandoning Tinderbox also invalidates Simplenote’s fuction. so, I am also not using simplenote anymore.

The whole writing system is build around dropbox now (the nvALT) folder. For creating connections between ideas, now, I have to rely on Scrivener and Devonthink (and Scapple for visualization).

now, more simplified steps:

  • Create the notes in nvALT
  • Store them in a folder in Dropbox
  • Index the folder in Devonthink
  • Sync nvALT folder to Scrivener via Folder sync

Simpler and more efficient, at least until i need visualization of my notes (which happens rarely)..

As for the views, xmind surpasses Tinderbox

Tinderbox is one of the best apps for organizing notes. One of the selling points of the application is its capability to display the same hierarchy of notes in different VIEWS. The map view helps one to visualize the relationship between the notes; the outline view is great for outlining and creating hierarchy between notes. The newly introduced Timeline view is another great view to display information on timeline basis. These different views of the app is one of its kind;   examples of elegantly designed and executed features.  I used to think that these views in TB are irreplaceable and non-existing in any other application until I discover xMind. I was surprised to discover that  xmind has even more views than tinderbox…about six of them. I specially find what they call the Fishbone view exceptionally wonderful for planning and scheduling my projects. The Matrix view (structure in xmind language) is another brilliant view to put spreadsheets inside your mindmaps.

The other advantage of the Views in xmind over the Tinderbox is the fact that different views can be combined in the same window. As you can see in the following map, you can have Maps, Logic charts, Matrix and Trees inside your Fishbone structure (view), and vise-versa.

  project plan in xmind combing Fishbone and Matrix structures
project plan in xmind combing Fishbone and Matrix structures

The gantt chart plus the  combined structures in the same windows make xmind one of the best applications to write project plans and any other kinds structured information on timeline basis.

I admit, Tinderbox is more advanced and sophisticated for storing and  organizing notes (information) that any mind mapping software can never closer. Tinderbox’s agents and attributes specially make the application super powerful to dig deeply buried information out of the dark and bring it into the light; to see the connections between ideas inside the cloud of notes.  But, it does so with big sacrifice; a huge learning curve, weeks and even moths of studying how to write commands (ONadds and Regex commands) while xmind does the job with just a few clicks of the mouse. For majority of us who want to get more work done than tinker with an arcane application, I think approaches taken in xmind, and the elegant views, are more practical than the  sophisticated tools of Tinderbox.

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